Phi Beta Cons

University to Christians: Don’t Hang Out Off Campus

Today the National Litigation Foundation and the Alliance Defense Fund (representing a Christian student group called “Commissioned II Love”) filed a lawsuit against Savannah State University in Georgia after the university expelled the group from campus. In one of the more bizarre cases of viewpoint discrimination that I’ve seen, the university first punished the group for “hazing” after the university discovered that group members voluntarily engaged in the ancient Christian practice of “foot washing.” The practice sounds strange to some, but it is taken directly from one of Jesus’ most famous acts and involves, well, literally washing (with soap and water) the feet of another member of the group as a symbolic act of humility, love, and service. The university construed this action as endangering the “physical health” of their students.     After suspending the group for “hazing” and “harassment” (yes, in the eyes of the university, students sharing their faith constitutes “harassment”), the university imposed the ultimate punishment — expulsion — when the group members had the audacity to go to an off-campus, weekend event together (a Christian music concert). In other words, the very act of collectively hanging out off campus was enough to impose the ultimate penalty on the group.   The administrative power grab in this case is truly amazing. Not content with banning an ancient (and quite safe) faith practice, the university is now punishing the students for simply spending time together at an (entirely legal) off-campus event. Savannah State represents the third public university in Georgia sued in the past thirteen months for violating the fundamental First Amendment rights of religious students or student groups. Perhaps it is time for the legislature to weigh in and require a bit of accountability from the universities it funds.